Buhari's Burden In 2017

That year 2016 was not the best for Nigerians is not in doubt as the people grappled with economic recession, inflation, fluctuating currency, increased unemployment, death from famine and insecurity. There were highs where there should have been lows, and lows where there should have been highs. While oil prices and revenue remained low, insecurity, unemployment and inflation remained high.

This report seeks to highlight the issues that would define the country in 2017 amid the myriad of domestic and international pressures the year would bring.

The economy

President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration started without a cabinet in place for six months, and unfortunately did not have the urgency to tackle the issues that had begun to accelerate. Analysts describe 2016 as a lost opportunity by the Federal Government to set Nigeria on the path to economic growth.

There were warning that the economy was heading into a recession when President Buhari took six months to constitute his cabinet. His critics said that his ‘lackadaisical’ response to the economic crisis has a growing number of investors worried that he was ignoring the crisis, and many Nigerians expressed concern that he may not have what it takes to rescue Nigeria from recession.  He vowed not to ‘kill the naira’ by devaluing it against expert advice.

Quite unexpected, one of those who criticised him is his wife Aisha, who told the BBC that she may not back him in the next elections, suggesting that his government had been hijacked and he has lost control.

According to a report by Bloomberg Markets, the Naira is now the 3rd worst performing currency in the world, and the nation’s economy is set to contract for the first time in more than two decades, while the country’s stocks have been the worst hit as it lost 41 percent in dollar terms.

The currency has depreciated to over 37 percent to around N315 to one dollar at the parallel market since the Central bank Governor, Godwin Emefelie ended a peg on June 20, but the naira is still trading below the black market rate of N485.

In 2017, Nigerians would be forced to cut down on spending in a bid to conserve cash. It would be a year that many would attempt to create more streams of income as there may be more job losses.

Going by the information released by the National Bureau of Statistics, the quality of life of Nigerians did not improve in 2016 as against the previous year. Though the government has said that it injected N6.4 trillion in 2016, there are no details on what the monies where invested in.

Many argue that the recurrent expenditure of N370 billion in the 2017 budget is more than that of  the 2014 and 2015 put together, and is a contradiction of the government’s claim of cutting cost.

Some line items in the budget show that the State House headquarters, residential rent is N77.54 m, and the question is who takes Aso Rock rents? N100m was also budgeted for the purchase of canteen and kitchen utensils and the question again is what happened to the ones used by the immediate past government. The Ministry of Defence budgeted N60m for ‘Clinical Governance’, but many Nigerians are in doubt what that means.

Despite the recession, the FG budgeted over N1billion for Public Relations. In a review of the proposed allocations submitted by the Ministry of Information, it plans to spend over one billion on schemes to influence citizens’ opinion, lobby foreign and local media. The government has budgeted N180 million to be spent on ‘ministerial media appearances with influencers and analysts on TV, radio, social and print media’.

There have been calls for President Buhari to jettison some of his ministers and constitute a competent economic team to tackle the recession. Former chairman of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), and APC chieftain, Senator Rufai Hanga says that until the country has an efficient economic team, there may not be an end to the economic crisis. He said: “I have never heard the President say this is my economic team. The Vice President is not an economist; he is a lawyer. Constitutionally, he is the chairman of the economic council, and the council is not an economic team. The economic council is constitutional, and the Vice President normally is supposed to be its chairman.

“The council comprises of the minister of finance, some ministers, governors, and some selected people who will sit down, discuss on the economy and make recommendations. But an economic team is a team made up of proven economic experts who will sit, think, come out with solutions to make the economy thrive.

“In hospitals, there are psychiatrists, administrators, laboratory technicians and so on; and the Vice President is like the head of hospital. But in all departments, there are specialists. If you have a paediatric case, it is a paediatrician who will analyse it and proffer solutions. But a hospital accountant cannot give solution to a gynaecological problem. I am not aware that there is any economic team made up of carefully selected economic experts. Until we have a sound economic team, there may not be an end to the recession.”

Insecurity, ethnic tensions and divisions

President Buhari set the tone for further ethnic divisions when shortly after he was sworn in, he was famously quoted as saying that he would not treat those that gave him 97 percent votes the way he would treat those that gave him five percent votes. He got more votes in the North and South West, than in the South East and South South).

He was criticised for stoking ethnic divisions, but later events proved that he would match his words with actions, as most of the prominent appointment he made were from the northern part of Nigeria.

His pacifist attitude toward the menace of Fulani herdsmen, further entrenched the belief that he is a sectional president, who panders to issues that affect the North, while ignoring other parts of the country. His non-committal response to the increased killings by alleged Fulani herdsmen further entrenched the belief that he was favouring his constituency. Many argue that Fulani herdsmen have become the new face of terrorism in Nigeria, as they have graduated from carrying bows and arrows to deadly sophisticated weapons. In one of their various raids, on Ukpabi Nimbo, Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area of Enugu state, the herdsmen killed about 46 people, leaving a bloody trail.

The Global Terrorism Index rated Fulani herdsmen as the fourth deadliest terror organisation in the world.   President Buhari’s critics accuse him of being late in not giving the security agencies the crackdown order on the marauders. They say that compared to his approach against militancy in the Niger Delta, and Biafra protesters in the South East, his approach to marauding Fulani men have been pacifist.

Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, stated: “I am yet to hear this government articulate a form policy of non-tolerance for the serial massacres that have become the nation’s identification stamp. The nation is treated to an eighteen month optimistic plan which, to make matters worse, smacks of abject appeasement and encouragement of violence on innocents.”

Critics of this administration say that while the military has consistently cracked down on unarmed Biafran protesters and even killed hundreds of them in the South East who pose no threat, and militants in the Niger Delta, the Federal Government has failed to use the same show of force in dealing with marauding herdsmen. For instance, in November 2016, Amnesty Nigeria released a report on its website stating how 150 peaceful Biafra protesters were killed by the military in the South East.

But the question is, how can all the ethnic tensions be resolved? Hanga said: “The FG would have to take a more diplomatic, pragmatic and balanced approach to issues that affect other ethnic groups, and as much as possible, eschew actions that would stoke ethnic disunity. I have not seen anything being done and I don’t blame the President because his advisors should be the ones advising him. There is so much tension all over the country and a lot of people feel marginalized, but unfortunately, the President does not have a political adviser because this is strictly politics.

“I would advise him to carry everybody along. If people are not carried along, they will certainly revolt. The Igbo and the South South did not vote for him, but he can make them vote for him next time if he can make them happy”

Elections

The confidence of Nigerians in the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is gradually waning. First, the new INEC leadership led by Prof. Yakubu Mahmood, gambled with credibility and integrity when the opposition Peoples Democratic Party(PDP), exposed what it called a  “secret meeting” that was held with President Buhari just days to the Kogi governorship election. The government owned up that it was true and that it was only a meeting for five minutes. Sadly, the Yakubu-led INEC denied it, raising doubt on the credibility of the leadership of the current INEC.

The commission drew the ire of Nigerians on August 20, 2016, when it said it was very doubtful if it would be able to guarantee conclusive elections in 2019, which made critics demand the resignation of the Commission’s chairman. But the Commission fired back at critics, saying that it were the actions of desperate politicians who incite violence during elections that usually lead to its inconclusiveness.  Inconclusive elections gained prominence after the Kogi governorship election of November 21, 2015, and since then, most of the elections conducted by the commission were either declared inconclusive or mired in controversy. The myriad of inconclusive elections and the controversy that trailed the Kogi, Bayelsa, Edo and Ondo governorship elections has not given INEC a good image and its neutrality as an unbiased umpire has been called into question. With the controversies that have surrounded the elections conducted since 2015, Nigerians are keenly watching if the Mahmood-led INEC would live above board in the conduct of the 2019 elections.

Mega Party challenge

On the political scene, there would be alignment and re-alignments. Already, there are reports that the PDP are in merger talks with some chieftains of the All Progressives Congress (APC) including a former governor of Lagos State and other smaller parties to form a mega party.

Though this has been denied by the parties allegedly involved, there is no doubt that plans are underway to form a coalition strong enough to win elections in 2019, and this year is the year these manoeuvrings would play out.

 

Culled from www.sunnewsonline.com

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